ASK DR. FORMAT: Slugging Out Slug Lines

Slug lines help orient the reader, but can be created in a variety of ways. Dave Trottier, AKA Dr. Format, shares advice on proper screenplay formatting of slug lines.
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Slug lines help orient the reader, but can be created in a variety of ways. Dave Trottier, AKA Dr. Format, shares advice on proper screenplay formatting of slug lines.

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QUESTION

When I have two locations in a slug, I like to go from the smallest location to the largest; but I noticed you go from largest to smallest.

Here’s me:

INT. THE KITCHEN – JONES HOME – DAY

Here’s Dr. Format:

INT. JONES RESIDENCE – KITCHEN – DAY

Does it matter?

ANSWER

For some readers, it may not matter. To understand why Dr. Format recommends what he recommends, let’s first understand slug lines.

What is a slug?

The actual term is scene heading, which is the term you see in the major software programs. Slug or slug line is a popular nickname derived from the world of journalism. I have no problem with the nickname as long as you understand how to slug. Incidentally, this area (scene headings) is where I see the most errors by developing writers.

In the Dr. Format example above, the larger location is the master location (or primary location). Any location that is part of the master location is a secondary location. Since it is secondary, you name it second.

Once you establish the master (primary) location, then you can indicate secondary locations within that master location.

INT. JONES RESIDENCE – KITCHEN – DAY

The interior of the Jones Residence is our master (or primary) location. The kitchen is part of the interior of the Jones Residence, so it is a secondary location, and it’s where this scene takes place. Some writers stack these locations as follows:

INT. JONES RESIDENCE – DAY

KITCHEN

Thus, we have a master (primary) scene heading followed by a secondary scene heading. Some writers use the term mini-slug or sub-heading for secondary scene heading.

By implication, a secondary scene heading is CONTINUOUS, in that it continues from the previous location without any jump in time, so the term CONTINUOUS does not need to be used after a secondary scene heading.

Secondary slugs can be useful

Secondary scene headings can be handy in making particular locations pop out in a long action scene. Here’s an example using the now-familiar Jones residence.

INT. JONES RESIDENCE – KITCHEN – DAY

Sue fills a cup with water and marches up the

STAIRS

and into the

BEDROOM

where she throws the water in the face of her sleeping husband.

SUE

(sweetly)

Breakfast is ready.

That looks like a slug fest, and it could have been written as follows:

INT. JONES RESIDENCE – DAY

At the kitchen sink, Sue fills a cup with water and marches up the stairs and into the bedroom.

She throws the water in the face of her sleeping husband.

Both methods are correct. See how easy this is?

Another cool method of slugging it out

You don’t necessarily have to use secondary scene headings in a spec script, but they sure help in long action scenes. In a shooting script, there would not likely be any secondary scene headings. If you wish, begin every scene heading in your spec with an EXT. or an INT. Thus, you would not use secondary scene heads (mini-slugs or sub-headings) at all, and it’s perfectly legit. Here is an example:

INT. JONES KITCHEN – DAY

Sue fills a cup with water and marches out.

INT. STAIRS

She races up and bursts through a door.

INT. BEDROOM

She throws the water in the face of her sleeping husband.

I suppose you could place the term “CONTINUOUS” at the end of those last two scene headings (slugs), but that is unnecessary when it’s already obvious that the scenes are CONTINUOUS.

As you can see, when it comes to formatting, you can have it your way… well, within reason. The important thing is to keep writing!

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